15 June 2009

Alessandro asks Pope Benedict, 'How can we children help you to proclaim the gospel?'

Below is the third and last question from children that Pope Benedict answered when he met with members of the Pontifical Society of the Holy Childhood on 30 May. I've highlighted some parts. The Pope's answer reminds me of something I've been aware of for many years - that I can trace my vocation to be a missionary priest back to my days in kindergarten, in Stanhope Street, Dublin, run by the Irish Sisters of Charity. I remember Sister Gemma in Kinder 2, or 'Second Babies', as we called it, speaking to us about the work of missionaries. She invited us to ask our parents to give a little towards the missionary work of the Church. Most of my classmates brought small amounts, such as a shilling or sixpence - not at all small for most families in the area where I grew up - but mine gave me half a crown, the largest coin at the time. Sister Gemma gave me a little calendar with a picture of St Therese of Lisieux.

We also had a visit from Father Woods, a priest from our parish who worked in some African country, I can't remember which. Our teacher made a big thing of the visit and stirred our interest. I can still remember Father Woods sitting in front of us and showing us some artifacts he had brought home with him. I don't recall a word he said but his visit is still vivid in my memory.

We also subscribed to the magazine of the Columbans, Far East, and that of the Holy Ghost Fathers, now known as The Spiritans, Missionary Annals. I was always struck by the photos of newly-ordained priests in these magazines, usually around twenty for each of those groups each year. I had no idea that many of the Columbans would later be my friends and confreres.

We were also part of the Holy Childhood, though I can't remember the details.

Usually a Holy Ghost Father would celebrate one of the later Sunday morning Masses in our parish. It was usually a newly-ordained priest finishing his studies. I never remember any of these priests being referred to by name but as 'the Holy Ghost Father'.

In other words, missionaries were part of the air we breathed and it was natural for boys in Catholic secondary schools to give more than a passing thought to the idea of being a missionary priest.

Dear Pope Benedict, my name is Alessandro. I wanted to ask you: you are the principal missionary; how can we children help you to proclaim the Gospel?

I would say that the first way is this: to collaborate with the Pontifical Society of the Holy Childhood. That way you are part of a large family, which takes the Gospel to the world. That way you belong to a large network. In it we see how the family of diverse peoples is represented. You are all in this big family: each one has his part and together you are missionaries, bearers of the missionary work of the Church. You have a beautiful plan, laid out by your spokesperson: to listen, pray, understand, share, sympathize. These are the essential elements that combined are truly a way to be missionaries, to encourage the growth of the Church into the future and the presence of the Gospel in the world. I would like to emphasize some of these points.

First of all, pray. Prayer is a reality: God listens to us and, when we pray, God enters into our lives, he becomes present among us, works among us. Praying is a very important thing that can change the world, because it makes the power of God present. And it is important to help each other by praying: to pray together in the liturgy, to pray together in the family. And here I would say that it is important to begin the day with a small prayer and also to end the day with a small prayer: to remember our parents in prayer. Pray before lunch, before dinner and during Sunday's shared Celebration. A Sunday without Mass, the great communal prayer of the Church, is not truly a Sunday: it lacks the very heart of Sunday and so also the light for the week. And you can also help others especially those who do not pray at home or do not know about prayer by teaching others to pray: praying with them and in this way introducing others to communion with God. Next, listen that is, learn what Jesus really says. In addition, get to know the Sacred Scriptures, the Bible. In the story of Jesus we learn as the Cardinal said the Face of God, we learn what God is like. It is important to know Jesus deeply, personally. That way he enters into our life and, through our life, enters into the world.

Also, share, do not want things only for yourselves, but rather for everyone; divide things with others. And if we see that another is perhaps in need, that he or she is less gifted, we must help that person and so make God's love present without too many words, in our own personal world, which is part of the bigger world. And in this way we become a family together, in which each one has respect for the other: tolerating the other's differences, accepting also those who are disagreeable, not allowing anyone to be marginalized, but instead helping others to integrate into the community. All of this simply means living in this big family of the Church, in this big missionary family. To live out essential points such as sharing, knowledge of Jesus, prayer, reciprocal listening and solidarity is missionary work, because it helps to make the Gospel a reality in our world.

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